Beyond Free Materials: OER Advocates Push For Inclusiveness in Teaching...

Digital Learning

Beyond Free Materials: OER Advocates Push For Inclusiveness in Teaching Practices

By Sydney Johnson     Oct 11, 2018

Beyond Free Materials: OER Advocates Push For Inclusiveness in Teaching Practices
At the 2018 OpenEd conference in Niagara Falls, NY, OER advocates discuss ways the open movement goes beyond free textbooks.

What is your tolerance for failure in education?

Jess Mitchell, senior manager of research and design at the Inclusive Design Research Centre, posed the question on Wednesday to a group of around 850 educators, librarians and other open-access enthusiasts at the OpenEd conference in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Even as movements like open access gain momentum and increase access to learning materials for more students, Mitchell said, “the so-called playing field is not equal.” Determining where educators draw the line for failure, whether that’s with students of color, low-income students, immigrant students or some other group, determines educational outcomes and equity opportunities for the future.

Before closing the keynote talk, Mitchell left listeners with another question: Is open content enough?

That seemed to resonate with the group, and conversations around how to go beyond open materials into more open teaching methods continued throughout the day. At a session on addressing structural discrimination on campus, Jasmine Roberts, a communications lecturer at the Ohio State University (and EdSurge columnist), asked attendees to think about and share ways that the traditional education systems permits institutional racism.

The group grappled with the question, and several were open about ways their institution perpetuates systemic discrimination. “We have a lot of working-class students and students of color,” one member in the audience said. “A lot of them don't have a credit card and they can’t just hop onto Amazon to get a cheaper text. Or they need to wait until their financial aid comes through to purchase it from the bookstore.”

Another participant pointed to developmental education courses, which some students at her institution are required to take (and pay for) but for no course credit. That disproportionately affects students of color on campus, she said, reducing their chances of completion.

Talking about ways racism appears on campus both explicitly and through less obvious systemic ways isn’t easy for everyone. But Mitchell urged those attending the conference to open up and get vulnerable, saying “we should talk about the discomfort.”

“Nothing is neutral. We make design decisions all the time,” Mitchell continued. “How are technology decisions being made at our institutions? Not just who gets in the door, who gets in with full bellies, whose voice is heard, what does the advisor think about who is fit for graduate school?”

On the event’s second day, Lindsey Carfagna, a learning experience and assessment specialist at Thomas Edison State University, underlined that addressing institutionalized barriers to access and education is key to the open movement “growing up.”

“Universities can’t change everything,” she said, “but they’re one of those places where our ideals are made manifest.”

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

More from EdSurge

Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up